For firms to be successful in their operations, flexibility is a necessary component in all aspects of production. It is a managerial task that should be balanced with satisfactory stability in order to assist in bringing the desired change which is a significant task for designing the method of production in the firm. There should be profound harmonization and control of inventions and creativity in order for the two to be beneficial to the firm (Armstrong, M. 2002 p. 33). Before the concept of flexibility came in to use, employers were using the concept of scientific management (Taylorism & Fordism). These were the most commonly used methods of work force organization. They were characterized by high levels of division and specialization of labour. These were viewed as the motivating factors for workers as well as increasing their output (Redman, T. and Wilkinson, A. 2006 86-93).
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In the early 20th century, Frederick Taylor developed principles whereby workers worked through division of labor and a performance based remuneration. Each worker was to be allocated a particular task in a bid to save time and increase production. Fordism took the same perspective of division of labor. It was mainly targeting division of labor in large industries with a characteristic high mechanization where by the process of production of is arranged in a sequence, with each stage of machine operations assigned to a particular operator (Antonio Gramsci’s 1993 pp. 77-81). However, managers have realized that flexibility facilitates work life balance amongst workers. They are able to control their working conditions such as the choice of where to work, the time when they should work as well as how they perform in the work.
There are several ways through which firms can implement flexibility. These include policies on flexible hours. Flexibility of working hours allows fulfillment amongst the employees within the place of work as well as outside. This is usually beneficial to the business through improved productivity amongst the employees, which is attributed to job satisfaction. The employees are able to take care of family obligations as well as those of the work place (Bratton, J. and Gold, J. 2007 pp. 121-124). In that state, it is most likely that they will be more productive than working under tight schedules that do not allow them to take any other responsibility outside the paid work. The needs of employees towards work life balance are specific to individuals. These usually depend on the age, marital status, gender and other such factors (Bach, S.2005 pp. 89-93). High productivity in employees is attributed to job satisfaction. Productivity in employees results when managers ensure flexibility in their objectives and careful analysis of the workers’ needs in order to understand the areas where flexibility is highly needed. They are supposed to know which actions should be undertaken and which ones should be avoided. (Beardwell, J. and Claydon, T. 2007 pp. 76-78).
Emphasizing on training, explaining processes, giving instructions on particular tasks and constant worker upgrading is fundamental to realization of the customers’ requirements. Workers’ performance can be taken up and reinforced in order to instill positive thoughts in them regarding the managers as well as the customers. Managers should embark on taking into service employees who are competent in doing a particular job. They should also be willing to do it and are controllable when employed. These consequences in happy employees, whose productivity is a major contributor to customer contentment (Leopold, J., Harris, L. and Watson, T. 2005 pp. 65-67).
Upgrading of the skills of supervisors and managers is fundamental in ensuring the best performance in workers. This is because people skills time and again create the divergence involving unbeaten and unproductive supervisors. These abilities principally add to the possibility of good performance in the workers. Being careful on the way that employees are treated is an asset to the management. Treatment of workers has an effect on their job performance. Careful managers are diplomatic and present directions that avoid sounding like orders. Rather, they treat workers in a fair manner and shun preferential treatment. They pay attention to the workers’ point of view. They are always accessible for assistance and encourage proposals. Establishment of individual development goals which are in line with organizational requirements culminates in happy employees (Pilbeam, S. and Corbridge, M. 2006 pp.91-94).
Investing in flexible work change programs that involve constructive discussions between workers and the managers is significant in a firm’s productivity. Managers request workers for their assistance while setting departmental or organizational goals. They also invite them for recommendations concerning the procedures for achieving the organizational goals. Getting workers to be part of the organizational goals is the most appropriate means of ensuring that the goals turn out to be reality (Armstrong, M. 2002 p. 33). The employees possibly may have an idea of the problems that they may come across in the process of achieving the organizational goals as well as ways of overcoming these problems.
Promotion of new working procedures enhances flexibility which brings more commitment amongst the employees thereby becoming smart workers with improved productivity. It also allows an organization to be capable of drawing experienced personnel in to the production system from external sources where they may be available. People may shun from joining organizations that are too rigid for them. It can be as simple as providing new working equipment for the workers or adopting new ways of working and constant improvements in the work place (Thorpe, R. and Homan, G. 2000 pp. 34-37).
According to a survey conducted by Unisys IT Company, youthful workers in the United Kingdom are declining in productivity due to problems associated with relationship problems as well as stress that is usually caused by working practices that are not flexible. Working hours are also a problem. There lacks arrangements that allow for flexi-time or working over some important part of the week and attending to personal matters for several hours in a week. There is also no allowance for working at home (Scott McKain 2004 p. 27). It is usually rigidity in work practices that discourages skilled workers from certain companies with inflexible work practices. Long working hours affect relationships due to lack of contact. Young and skilled workers would therefore prefer contract employment which turns out to be costly to the employer. They also tend to prefer part time employment in which they do not gain as much as they would in permanent employment. Flexible organizations offer choices for their employees in order for them to select the most appropriate practices that can satisfy their needs. This allows such organizations to recruit and keep young, aggressive and skilled workers who are destined to become productive employees (White, G. and Druker, J. 2000 pp. 66-72).
Work sharing in organizations promotes flexibility and employees can not be over burdened with tasks. This serves an important role in maintaining continuity in a firm and therefore the employers are not compelled to recruit new workers every now and then, thereby reducing the costs associated with recruitment. It also promotes consistency in productivity and therefore a firm is able to meet its customers’ needs. Modular consortium that was recently established in the Volkswagen firm in Brazil is a good example of a flexible firm. It exercises flexibility through outsourcing personnel as well as giving out subcontracts. Part time is usually unregulated and therefore women are able to cope with the work due to flexibility that fits with domestic tasks. Business partners from abroad as well as foreign workers can easily be accommodated in the flexible system of production (Wright, A. 2004 pp. 121-123).
Flexible firms which are successful in their operations include Rolls-Royce which provides power services globally, BT which is a broad band providing firm in the United Kingdom, Accenture which offers management consulting and technology services world wide, Price Water House Coopers which offers professional services globally, and Eversheds which is an international law firm. These are some of the firms with flexible working practices such as employees working part time, have introduced measures including part-time working, offering flextime where by employees are allowed to make a choice of the time when they would like to work and also flex place whereby they chose where they would like to do their work. The companies have adopted modern working practices and they have been able to maintain their levels of output. Job sharing is allowed amongst workers as well as the use of annualized hours. This has led to improvement in customer service due to retention of skilled personnel and raising motivation of workers which has helped the companies to solve the problem of absenteeism (Thornton and Alex 2007 pp. 67-72).
Their flexible working policies have enabled them to satisfy their workers hence increased productivity. BT has been successful in worker satisfaction through allowing workers flextime and also the choice of where to work. Currently, more than 100 000 of its staff work from home. This has been proved to increase the savings by more than £10 million per year. The company also saves more than £128m per year through video taped face to face meetings as well as holding conferences through the web. The company has been able to retain skilled female workers who usually quit before their time for retirement to spend time with their children (Stephen Ackroyd and Stephen Procter 1998 p. 161). Richards, Layton & Finger which is a professional association in Delaware is a law firm which has been able to maintain its staff through flexible work practices. Staff and attorneys with family needs benefit from the flexibility of the firm and they are also provided with dental and general health benefits for themselves and their domestic relations (Thornton and Alex 2007 pp. 75-78).
Benefits of flexible working practices
The employer allows self management amongst the employees through flexible working practices. This makes them to feel indebted towards achieving the objectives that have been set for them by the employers. The motivation that occurs amongst self managing employees is usually due to the fact that satisfied employees require minimum supervision and can produce the desired output on their own. The cost of hiring supervisors is therefore reduced. Workers tend to strive to achieve the set objectives in order to maintain the employer’s confidence in them so that they can get promotion or more benefits. Skills are improved due to specialization in specific tasks leading to increased production. They are normally inventive and their creativity is usually an important asset to the organization. Managers need to invest in their innovativeness for improvement in the organization’s output (Charlie C. 2007 p. 46).
Employees and their managers work in co-operation where the work practices are flexible. They approach work issues as a team and find solutions to challenges as a group. Employees enjoy participating in management through teamwork when they are satisfied. It becomes easy to identify problems and come identify the way forward. They turn out to be assets to the organization and strikes that may arise due to dissatisfaction are rare. Constantly being supervised and controlled in every action reduces self esteem and confidence. Performance is lowered since the workers can not be certain about their output. They should also be allowed to be responsible in certain tasks in which they specialize (Edwards J. 2006 pp. 66-68).
Apart from encouraging and employing the skills of women who are usually favored by flexibility, the elderly and the workers with disabilities are given a chance to work. This group of workers may have expertise in certain fields that are essential in the production process, but the working conditions may not favor them. It also helps in getting the best out of the employees through avoidance of shoddy work done in haste by employees in order for them to attend other issues concerned with work life balance. This occurrence is eliminated by providing them with a choice of the most appropriate time that when they would like to perform their duties in order for the work not to coincide with individual commitments (Feldman A. 2008 pp. 34-36).
Customer satisfaction is usually improved through the improvement of employee satisfaction. Workers who like what they do normally do it with determination and the motivation to succeed. They serve the customers better in order to avoid any unwarranted situations. Customer satisfaction is fundamental for the productivity of the organization and therefore the happiness in employees is reflected by the positive response of the customers. Managers should therefore take precise measures to improve satisfaction and happiness in employees, their performance and customer contentment. The organizational goals should be planned in such a way that they allow flexibility that adds to worker happiness for maximum productivity. Workers who are satisfied with their work have a tendency to remain in the organization for a long period. This ensures that the experience gained while working in the organization is retained for further production (Geoffrey A. 2004 pp. 47-51).
Promotion of activities of employees in areas of involvement outside the paid work is significant in improving the workers morale and a feeling of belonging to the organization. It also allows social corporate responsibility amongst workers. The health of workers is promoted by flexibility in work practices. Health issues are vital for the employees’ productivity. Unhealthy employees are generally unhappy and distressed. Poor health is naturally a drain on a workers capability. Managers should ensure that the health of workers is upheld in order maintain their productivity. Exhaustion and fatigue are a major cause of reduced productivity in workers. Psychological problems caused by fatigue leads to absenteeism and a reduction in the working capacity of employees. More over, it can cause serious mistakes in the production process especially if the workers are involved in operating machinery that requires high alertness. Properly equipped employees are more productive. Managers should pay particular attention to ensure that the workers are happy with the gear provided for specific duties. Protective gear makes the workers confident about their security and health, thereby improving their productivity (Michael White, Stephen Hill, Patrick McGovern, Collin Mills, Deborah Smearton 2003 pp. 175-195).
There are several ways of improving work flexibility. The period of time that an employee is engaged in his usual duties is of utmost importance in determining his productivity. It is therefore necessary for employers to be flexible in allocating the working hours. The employees can be given a variety of choices to make in order for them to take the time that best suits them. They can be allowed to compress their working hours in order for them to have extra time for personal activities. This can be done so long as it does not interfere with the final outcome. They can also have a choice of working at home when the nature of work allows them to work away from the place of work. Job sharing is an important tool for promotion of cooperation amongst workers. They can be allowed to share the work in case it becomes overwhelming to some of them. This also facilitates sharing of skills and produces a workforce that is highly competent since every person can perform a variety of tasks within the organization. Promotion of working in shifts can help in promotion of work-life balance (Stephen Ackroyd and Stephen Procter 1998, 163-183).
There are several disadvantages that are associated with flexibility of work. These usually affect the employees as well as the employers. For the employees, flexibility may lead to low wages since they are assumed to enjoy more benefits than the permanent workers who do not enjoy any flexibility. For example a part time employee will be paid less than a permanent employee who works overtime. Flexibility that is limited to a group of employees leaves them isolated from the other group of employees and therefore there is a tendency of some feeling some how oppressed (Armstrong, M. 2002 p. 33). This is because in an organization, there might occur a group of employees whose presence is necessary for organizational activities to move on smoothly. On the other hand, paying them highly in order to compensate for their forgone alternatives, the other employees may feel underpaid. It therefore becomes a problem when considering the crucial employees in the production process (Arne L. Kalleberg 2001 pp. 479-504).
As much as flexibility is seen as an important management tool, it may be difficult to identify the employees who need promotion. This is because in most cases, hard working employees are seen to be those who continuously remain in their place of work and sacrifice most of their time in the work environment. Together with the out put, the time spent in the work place is a major factor that influences appraisal of employees. It is therefore most likely that the employees who remain in the workplace longer and those who do not insist on making their own choice concerning their work get promotion before the rest. It therefore seems that flexibility may not favor some employees and they may end up becoming demoralized by staying in one position for so long. It is therefore necessary for the managers and employees to understand the implications of flexibility at work and evaluate its pros and cons before making a decision on which way to put it in to work practice.
Policies set by employers are significant in the productivity of employees as well as employee recruitment and retention. These are important aspects in the profitability of a firm because if there is a high employee turnover, in a particular organization, there is a likelihood of the organization not attaining the desired goals. Flexibility at work helps in retaining workers as well as improving their productivity. However, managers should be careful not to overemphasize on flexibility at work at the expense of all the other aspects of a firm’s productivity. This is because it is just one of the ways of improving performance in the work place, but not the overall factor.
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